In many ways, Noah Baumbach’s sixth film is his strongest yet. Baumbach seemingly hasn’t had a lot of trouble making exactly the kinds of films he wants to make, but that hasn’t always turned out so well — his last film, Margot at the Wedding, is almost brilliant, but goes off the rails in too many intentional ways to really have the same impact as the masterful The Squid and the Whale, which came before it.
Like Margot, Baumbach's latest effort, Greenberg, concerns itself with a wholly unlikable character, although the repulsive behavior isn’t quite so rampantly inclusive as in Margot. Ben Stiller’s titular Greenberg is a son of a bitch — not a lovably dysfunctional misfit or a misanthrope with a heart of gold. A troubled, mean asshole.
That’s not to say that Baumbach’s characterization or Stiller’s performance aren’t nuanced, but there’s not a lot of winking to the camera going on to remind viewers that Greenberg really does mean well, no matter how unpleasant he seems in this scene. This time, Baumbach nails the unpleasantness, reaping pitch black comedy and a fairly convincing emotional core.
Like all Baumbach films, character is king, so the plot details of Roger Greenberg (Stiller) staying at his brother’s house while he and his family are on vacation are negligibly important. Suffice to say, Greenberg wants to re-connect with an old bandmate (Rhys Ifans) and maybe an ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who also gets a story credit), but ends up spending most of his time with his brother’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig).
Greenberg’s unrelenting disagreeableness is matched only by Florence’s pervasive niceness. She’s way too nice, in fact, easily falling into bed with guys who couldn’t care less about her and aimlessly living her life mostly for the whims of others. Inexplicably, she’s drawn to Greenberg, and even though on paper the pair have a kind of schematic opposites attract quality that seems like perfect rom-com material, there’s not too much funny about their growingly unhealthy dynamic. Sure, Florence does represent a kind of redemption for Greenberg, but Baumbach never seems to oversell this point.
Pretty much everything already said about Stiller’s excellent performance is true. People like to fawn over the fact that he’s playing against typical manic comedic type, but one gets the sense this is the kind of work he wants to be doing, unlike Adam Sandler, who frankly seems scared to explore the depths of a character like the one he played in Punch-Drunk Love again, preferring to retreat to innocuously imbecilic fare like Grown Ups.
Gerwig, who is a sort of goddess among the mumblecore (a term that has long outlived any usefulness it may have once had) crowd, gives what could be a career-making performance that is at turns amiable and totally broken. Despite the film’s title, there are plenty of moments where Florence feels like the main character, and Baumbach’s script is certainly not the only reason for that. She commands the screen.
Baumbach, whose verbal wit has been well known since his one-liner-packed debut, Kicking and Screaming, doesn’t disappoint on that level (“Life is wasted on people” is a great barb), but he also seems at his most confident as a director. His compositions are more thoughtfully composed than ever and the film has a nice slightly washed-out tinge that rubs the sheen off the L.A. that can be all too disappointing for some characters.
Baumbach crafts films that are winners out of characters that are losers. Greenberg is no exception.
The Blu-ray Disc
Greenberg is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a very warm visual presentation, with the Los Angeles sunshine soaking into the images in a way that’s more homey than glossy. Everything seems to be in order from picture sharpness to color consistency to fine detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD master track is pretty dialogue heavy, but LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy’s score peps it up a bit, and a large party scene near the end of the film lends some nice ambiance. Solid, if not spectacular.
Even by Universal’s standards (almost always promoting inane BD-Live content over bonus material we might actually care about), this is a thin set of extras. Paltry would be a generous term. The making-of featurette is the longest, clocking in at about three minutes. Even shorter are brief peeks at the film’s L.A. setting and its literary elements.
The Bottom Line
Not a superb package by any means, but Greenberg looks great in high-def and Baumbach’s excellent character film will definitely earn some repeat visits.Powered by Sidelines